This trip was really about Volubilis – the ruins of a Roman city close to Meknes, While a popular day tour from Fez, we didn’t have time for a visit on a previous trip so it’s been on the ‘to do’ list for a while.
As often happens, we were flexible with travel plans so the best offer to be had at the time of booking was in to Rabat and out of Tangiers. Neither flight was direct – both went via Madrid but allowing for flight change and the size of Madrid airport, both trips were easy. (A word about Royal Air Maroc… they still offer free food – we were served lunch on the short flight from Madrid to Rabat! Good for them!!).
Start Point: Rabat ⇒⇒⇒ Finish: Tangier
Duration – 10 Nights
RABAT – MEKNES – CHEFCHAOUEN – TANGIER
Rabat has a small enough airport and passport control was fast – about 20 minutes. It’s easy to sort car hire and currency exchange. The drive into Rabat and to our hotel was straightforward.
OUT AND ABOUT
There’s plenty to occupy one or two days and it’s a relaxing spot to begin a Moroocan road trip.
Le Tour Hassan
Mausoleum of Mohammed
Accommodation with free parking is always a major consideration on a self drive vacation. While there are always options on the outskirts and approach roads, it’s our preference, where possible, to get as close to the centre as possible (allowing for budget of course). Ideally, the car can be parked and ignored until moving on. Cities with old rambling streets can be challenging but its really a matter of holding one’s nerve and ignoring the surrounding turmoil! (say’s she who NEVER does the driving!)
Hotel Malak has a great location in the centre of the city. There’s limited parking roped off on the street in front of the hotel. The room was fine. The breakfast buffet (included in the price) consisted of orange juice, meats , cheese, boiled eggs, lovely crispy bread, pancakes, pain au chocolat, etc. The staff at reception were very helpful. We were close to the medina but could also walk to Le Tour Hassan and Chellah. We’d no worries about heading out at night to eat. We’d happily stay there again
Read about our stay in Rabat : Is Rabat Worth a Visit? Definitely!
The journey to Meknes surprised us … we didn’t expect so much GREEN!… a bit like home really!!
About 150km from Rabat, you’ll drive to Meknes in about 2 hours. One of the four imperial cities (the others being Marrakesh, Fez and Rabat) it seems to be mainly used by tourists as a base for Volubilis and Moulay Idriss but there’s plenty to see in the city itself. We were staying 2 nights which allowed time to have a look around before our day trip to the Roman ruins and pilgrimage site.
OUT AND ABOUT
The medina offers the usual souqs, markets and alleys offering everything you could possibly need and, as in Rabat, there’s no hard sell from the traders. Its 12th century Mosque is closed to non-Muslims. Dar Jamai Musuem is located next to the entrance of the medina and worth a visit if you have time.
The main focus point is Place el-Hedim which is frequently – and understandably so – compared to Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh.
(Place el-Hedim -This side of the square is lined with shops and cafes. In the background is the Jewish quarter or Mellah)
The massive gate is detailed with green and white zellij tiles, marble columns and inscriptions from the Quran
Place Lalla Auoda
This open space behind Bab el-Mansour houses a few Riads which offer accommodation and is a pleasant spot to sit when you’ve had enough of he bustle of the medina
(Place Lalla Aouda)
The royal granaries not only housed grain but stabled up to 12,000 horses.
Its about 2km from the medina – you can walk following the walls of the Royal palace (below) or get a taxi or horse-drawn carraige
We were pleasantly surprised with Ibis Meknes. The location is great – sited between the old city for your sight seeing and Ville Nouvelle which is handy for restaurants. There was plenty of parking and we could walk everywhere. Breakfast was not included in the room rate but, for convenience, we paid the 65Dh per day for the morning buffet which was fine and included the usual Moroccan options of cheese, fruit, yogurt, cold meats, tomatoes, breads, etc. The pool area was pleasant for sitting … cold pools are not for me though so no swimming! Definitely recommended.
FOOD AND DRINK
The Medina area has plenty of food stands and Riad options but we ate both nights in Ville Novelle which was closer to our hotel.
Pavillion des Idrissides
Great location for coffee overlooking Place el-Hedim and Bab el-Mansour. To discourage those merely seeking views and photographs, you pay for your drink downstairs before going up to the terrace. Food is served but reviews are mixed to say the least. Its a nice place to sit and watch the action below.
If you need a change from tajines and couscous, Le Pub in Ville Nouvelle offers nice oriental food and of course serves alcohol
Restaurant Pizza Roma
After a very substantial lunch in Moulay Idriss (see below), we didn’t need a fine dining experience that night. We came across this place in Ville Nouvelle which was mentioned in our Lonely Planet. This basic place has the usual counter at the front and a few tables behind. The book talked about the rotisserie chicken dinner so we ordered one along with a pizza. The place was popular with locals and busy enough with a fast turnover -and everyone around us was eating the chicken. The pizza was just ok but the chicken arrived with two types of rice and chips. Lovely piece of chicken and great value at 25Dh!
The Roman ruins of Volubilis sit about 40 minutes from Meknes. The Unesco World Heritage site is noted in particular for its array of mosaics. It makes for a fantastic half day trip from Meknes.
Read about our visit to Volubilis
Just a few kilometres from Volubilis stands the whitewashed town of Moulay Idriss spread over two hilltops. This pilgrimage site has only recent years allowed non-Muslim visitors to stay overnight. The Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss is reached via the main square which is lined as usual with food stalls and shops. A barrier blocks the access of non-Muslims.
There are plenty of locals around offering their services as guide to show you the town and the best views. We found them to be the most persistent to date on this particular trip.
(The setting of the town is breathtaking)
(The main square. Access to the Mausoleum (background) is restricted)
Lunch in Scorpion House
We had pre booked lunch in Scorpion House – owned by Mike who also owns Cafe Clock in Fez. The riad is beautifully restored with incredible views of the town and surrounds. We were met at the town square by a member of staff and guided up and through the alleys to the riad which also offers overnight stays.
The setting for our lunch overlooked the Mausoleum and town. We sat on a beautiful terrace and enjoyed the views. The spread was fantastic and each dish was explained.
(View from our terrace)
(‘Are you going to eat all that yourself’?)
(Impeccable service and detail)
(And of course we had a snoop around.. the Riad is gorgeous)
AND ON WE GO……
Its actually getting greener!
(♫♪♫♫ drivin along in my ……. Fiat Panda♬♪♪)
Wow! Tourist Central! Tour groups, school trips, back packers, photographers, touts, buskers and laden donkeys. But it works! Apparently we were there for peak season (April) so its probably less manic at other times. The town is stunning and an understandable attraction for visitors.
OUT AND ABOUT
There are things to do apart from wandering the alleys. The Plaza Uta el-Hammam with its cafes and restaurants, is where you’ll find the Kasbah and Grand Mosque. the Kasbah has a lovely garden and good views from the tower and also houses a small museum and gallery
( Kasbah with its gardens and views)
The Spanish Mosque
The mosque stands on a hilltop just outside town. The path which begins close to the waterfall is a popular route with visitors and views of the town are worth the effort.
(We even spotted our hotel down there, next to the Kasbah)
It was high season so we were very limited in choice when it came to booking a room. Allowing for the fact that we wanted to stay in town and we had a car, we settled on Hotel Parador. The location was great – right in the centre. Parking was tight but we know enough at this stage to let the parking attendants take care of things for a few Dirham – and they did! The foyer was a pleasant surprise – larger than expected. Staff were helpful and the room was fine. There’s a nice pool and terrace area. The only let down is the dining room – very unappealing looking (although we didn’t eat there so cannot comment on the food)
FOOD AND DRINK
We had breakfasts, lunches and coffees in several cafes on Plaza el-Hammam. Considering the number of tourists around, we felt they were good value.
(Breakfasts were great – for 25 -30 Dh – and that orange juice….!!!!)
For dinner, we ate in Sindibad and La Lampe Magique. Both restaurants were very busy with uneven service . They served up the usual fare- couscous, skewers and tajines. All the food was good (but I’d have loved a glass of wine!)
Have a look at some of my photos from Chefchaouen: A Study in Blue – Images from Chefchaouen
There’s a change in the landscape as we drive through the Rif Mountains
And then we hit the Med!
The Mediterranean coast is (or was?) experiencing huge development. Resorts with long corniches, fancy lighting , apartment blocks and marinas – many looking half finished or abandoned – stretched along our route from Martil as far north as Ceuta. The beaches themselves are impressive – its everything else that’s a let down!
(The beaches are lovely……)
(But the rest of it!!! And all that lighting!! Must have cost a fortune!)
Then its over the hills again ….
And past Tangier’s massive new port…..
Tangier was everything we hoped for. On our first afternoon as we wandered about getting our bearings, we rolled our eyes at each other whenever we spotted tourists in the coffee shops sipping their coffees and reading battered Paul Bowles novels. Twenty four hours later we were looking to buy any of his books we could find so that we too could sit in those iconic cafes and sip and immerse yourselves —yep – we were hooked!
OUT AND ABOUT
The gateway to the medina, its a a good place to sit and watch the bustle around you (if you can tolerate the touts of course)
The medina has the usual maze of alleys, souqs and houses. What I liked about this one in particular is that a huge effort has been made with signage. It actually has street names as well as colour -coded routes which are depicted on notice boards at key locations and then marked on corners. Some might argue that it takes the fun out of the medina but believe me there’s still plenty of opportunity for getting lost!
(Fresh produce market)
(Medina – heading towards Petit Socco)
Kasbah Museum and Sultan’s Garden
The museum is located at the highest part of the city in the sultan’s palace. The exhibitions are laid out in rooms around the courtyard and include a floor mosaic from Volubilis.
American Legation Museum
This beautiful building housed the first American Consulate and is one of the most popular attractions in the city. There’s plenty to occupy the history buffs and art lovers alike and there’s a room dedicated to Paul Bowles.
(James McBey’s painting, dubbed the Moroccan Mona Lisa)
St. Andrew’s Church
You can walk around the grounds of this Anglican church and see the wartime headstones. For a small donation, the caretaker will open the church for you and is delighted to show you around. The interior combines Christian and Moorish architecture.
Terrasse des Paresseux
This terrace in Ville Nouvelle provides views over the port area.
A lot of work has been done in the area – there’s a new corniche with plenty of seating that’s nice for a walk. The beach is huge but probably not recommended for swimming.
(The city must have been beautiful in its day….)
We spent 3 nights in Grand Hotel Villa de France. The location is great – beside the Grand Socco and within walking distance of the main sights. We had breakfast in the hotel – the usual Moroccan spread – and apart from a drink in the piano bar, we dined out the rest of the time. It has a nice pool area and terrace and of course it has free parking. There are great views from the roof terrace.
((Grand Hotel Ville de France)
(Greta views from the roof…)
FOOD AND DRINK
Le Salon Bleu is up beside the Kasbah Museum. The terrace has fantastic views over the bay. We had soup and salad and could have sat there all afternoon.
(Le Salon Bleu)
So many cafes, so little time…. We liked Gran Cafe de Paris in Ville Nouvelle but preferred Cafe Central in Petit Socco because of location. On one occasion we spent about 40 minutes sitting outside Cafe Central literally watching the business of the cigarette vendor opposite us, selling his product in ones and twos (while the individuals at the tables on either side of us were reading Paul Bowles….great place!)
La Giralda overlooks the Terrasse des Paresseux and is everything you’d expect from a grand cafe.
Anna e Paolo was buzzing when we arrived and remained full for the duration of our visit. The staff were very helpful and the food was delicious!
(Anna e Paolo)
LESS TIME? ….. You could do the same route – Just spend one night in both Meknes and Chefchaouen and two nights in Tangier
MORE TIME?….. Then add Fez and Tetouan to your itinerary.
Parking attendants — we used to avoid them like the plague….which is actually futile because they’re everywhere. But they’ll find you a parking spot for a few Dirham and help you out when leaving.
Most major tourist towns have Ensemble Artisanal government backed art and craft centres … for those who, like me, hate haggling
A lot of restaurants in medinas are used to guests getting lost and are happy to send staff to fetch you … just have the phone number handy in case you need it.
Clothes – Morocco is not all sun and desert. It can be cold: it can be windy: it can be wet. Assume that you need something warm for evenings. The general norm for women tourists is still to err on the side of caution and cover up – especially in urban areas.
Passport Control – while we were lucky on this trip, there can be huge delays upon arrival in most Moroccan airports.